With the news this week that Finland has the world’s highest percentage of women in the national workforce I decided to ask 3 female entrepreneurs in Finland for their stories about starting a business. Their answers are eye-opening and will help inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs, whatever their gender.
Amanda Sundell, Founder of DROPP
Encouraging women to pursue careers in tech and other male-dominated fields could help increase the number of female entrepreneurs across the board.
Why did you decide to start your own organization? I felt more could be done to engage people in the environmental protection of the Baltic Sea – to convert general goodwill into action. I also wanted to show that social enterprises can make a valuable contribution to society and the environment.
What does Finland do that helps female entrepreneurs? More than any one specific thing, I would highlight overall gender equality in Finland as an enabling factor for female entrepreneurs. Women and men have equal access to education and employment, women participate actively in the labour market and both genders are represented at all levels of political decision making. Equal opportunity and qualifications mean individuals can pursue their ambitions irrespective of their gender.
Why do you think Finland comes out top? Finland has a long history of gender empowerment. Among the first to receive universal suffrage and the first to elect women MPs into Parliament, Finnish women have actively worked for equality ever since. The Nordic welfare state and its strong emphasis on quality education for all, as well as support for families and working parents, has helped too.
How can Finland better encourage and support the next generation of female entrepreneurs in Finland? Supporting young entrepreneurs irrespective of gender should be the aim, but encouraging women to pursue careers in tech and other male-dominated fields could help increase the number of female entrepreneurs across the board.
We should teach young women to reach for their dreams and to be better at negotiating both at work (salaries, career development) and at home.
Why did you decide to start your own business? I always admired entrepreneurs and tried it for the first time as a teenager, when I started selling college clothes to students. I had a strong will to create my own business, to build on my own expertise and to be able to work with things I feel passionate about. I also have three small children, so I wanted to have as much autonomy as possible, to enable a balanced family life despite working a lot.
What does Finland do that helps female entrepreneurs? Our social system gives us access to world-class daycare for our children, and equal opportunities for studies and work. I feel very privileged being a woman in Finland.
Why do you think Finland comes out top? I think we have to thank our social system, but also the prevailing attitudes. Things are not perfect yet, but compared to many countries we have a society where women are respected and included on equal terms.
Have you benefited from any particular funds or programs designed to assist women in business? I have been part of a network of female leaders, Diamanten i Finland. This gave me a mentor when I was in one of my first managerial positions. I have continued being active in this network, in order to help other young women get access to mentoring.
How can Finland better encourage and support the next generation of female entrepreneurs in Finland? We can continue working on the attitudes and structures. Employers should carry equal responsibility for the cost of having children. We should teach young women to reach for their dreams, and to be better at negotiating both at work (salaries, career development) and at home.
What other advice do you have? Focus on what you are good at and try to get to work with things you feel passionate about. Then you will have energy to find the solutions to make any life combinations possible.
We hoped to change how we define work and having our own company allowed us to do this.
Why did you decide to start your own business? I founded the company together with two of my old colleagues. While working at our previous jobs, we noticed a growing demand for our expertise and consultancy. We were already getting calls from our network to discuss specific topics within marketing, and we decided that we could perhaps do this for a living. We hoped to change also how we define work, and having our own company allowed us to do this.
What does Finland do that helps female entrepreneurs? There is no difference in between genders. The help you get is the same for all entrepreneurs.
Why do you think Finland comes out top? I think this links to gender equality. The government balances the financial burden of having a family better than in most countries. The Nordics are known to offer equal opportunity, not linked to specific quotas.
Have you benefited from any particular funds or programs designed to assist women in business? No, there are no longer special funds or programs designed specially for women. There used to be a loan fund for women specially, but it was changed and now it is aimed for all entrepreneurs. There are women’s organisations that drive causes for women specially, but we have not participated to those.
How can Finland better encourage and support the next generation of female entrepreneurs in Finland? Women today are already better educated. I believe that women will organically start more companies in the future. However, this of course depends on women’s ability and willingness to take risks. I don’t believe Finland can necessarily encourage women to become entrepreneurs, especially when they are having families at the same time. This perhaps has more to do with relationships they hold, and how they themselves value entrepreneurship, and life in general.
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